first time I saw Wilson "Chembo" Corniel
was 17 years ago. He was working with Bobby
Rodriguez y La Compania at the Monday night performance
of Salsa Meets Jazz at the Village Gate in New
York City. It was at that time, November,
1982, that I took his first LP endorsement photo.
He also worked with a variety of musical artists
such as Jose Bello, Tito Allen, Luis Ramirez,
Pete El Conde and Tito Nieves.
attributes his ability to expand his horizons
from salsa to Latin/jazz to the strong "clave"
foundation of traditional salsa. He began
playing salsa in1978 with Bobby Rodriguez and
continued playing traditional salsa for many years.
For the last 5 or 6 years, "Chembo"
has branched out into Latin/jazz. It's freer
for him to have a traditional foundation of salsa
to support him as he crosses over and stretches
out into the less restrictive Latin/jazz.
This wide perspective allows him to be comfortable
wherever he plays.
"Chembo" has been playing with Puente
trumpet player Ray Vega. They just recorded
an album on Concord.& They also have an album
coming out with Chris Washburn. You can
see "Chembo" and Ray every Thursday
at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
travels to Japan almost every year. The
first time he went was in 1993 with Tito Nieves.
He returned every year since then with
Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends band.
They have a two-week Japan/China tour coming up
this summer. The accent of this tour will
be on percussion. It is being promoted as
Larry Harlow's Thunder Drums 99. The band
will be supplied with LP® instruments for
the whole tour. Five percussionists are
invited to play Bata and Rumba with the accompaniment
of Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends band.
also tries to go to Cuba every two years for the
percussion workshop. Since he has branched
out to Latin/Jazz, he is trying to pick up more
influence from Roberto Viscaino. The Cubans
recognize that the American Puerto Rican culture
kept the Cuban tradition despite the blockade.
"Chembo" calls Cuba Conga Land.
"You go there, it's like a kid in a candy
store -- everybody plays conga, everyone's
admits that there now are not so many places to
work in New York City. He remembers
the Corso on 86th Street . That is where
he got his training -- "boot camp."
He also remembers other clubs such as Barney Googles,
Casa Blanca, La Maganette. In those days,
there were parties every day, clubs bursting with
excitement. Salsa was being played everywhere
every night of the week. Today there aren't
the same variety of clubs. Merengue clubs
are expanding and becoming powerful because they
are very showy, energetic, and dramatic, but most
of all it's easier to dance to the music, whereas,
salsa is more complicated.
who helped shape "Chembo"'s career as
a percussionist are Tommy Lopez, Sr. and Little
Ray Romero. They were from the same neighborhood.
Tommy Lopez, Sr. used to take him to members only
clubs on Lenox Avenue. There he felt privileged
to see Kako, Patato, Totico, and Little Ray.
"Chembo" says that what he admired most
about Tommy Lopez, Sr. was not only his great
playing, but also the respect that he had for
the drum. Once Tommy sat down behind the
drum, there was a connection between him and the
drum. "Chembo" felt the vibe between
Tommy and his drum, which showed in the music
and his attitude. "Chembo" says,
"I got from him the respect that you've got
to have for yourself, for your drum, for the public,
for the guy you're working for, and for being
to Chembo discuss his career in this RealAudio
learn more about Chembo Corniel, CLICK